LONDON, England (MindaNews/04 July) – I woke up to a sunny morning at almost 6:00 a.m. in a lovely house along Old Lodge Lane in Purley, Surrey, just outside the city of London on Wednesday, 8 July 2019. I had arrived at the Heathrow airport in London the previous evening just past 8 P.M. after almost a twelve-hour non-stop Manila-London PAL flight. Ms Ana Mae Contreras-Martinez – whose family was to host me while staying in London – was kind enough to meet me at the airport so I won’t get lost finding my way.
In a little while after I got out of bed, Ana Mae was up and invited me to see her flower garden at the back of their house. The red, purple, white, pink and yellow summer flowers were in bloom. Surrounding their house one can see a lot of trees. Purley is surely a town that is very green as those who had lived here since the turn of the 20th century had planted a lot of trees. At the train station looking up to the nearby hill, one can actually see a mini-forest. After the walk in the garden, we shared a refreshing drink of pineapple mixed with banana and flavored with lavender flowers. A while later, Ana Mae’s husband – Matias – who teaches Sustainable Innovations at the University of Sussex then joined us for a cup of coffee and light breakfast.
My first day in London began without the usual rush typical of folks living in a metropolitan city. Ana Mae was only expected at her office at 11:00 a.m. and Matias was going to work at home. So things were a bit relaxed and we were in no hurry to leave the house. Eventually past 9 A.M. Ana Mae and I took the bus from Old Lodge Lane to the train station at Purley that brought us to London Bridge station. There we parted ways and I went to explore the city from there on foot. As this is a major train connection and we were there at the peak hours for travelers, the crowd at the station was quite thick. Walking down the corridors to find our connection to the underground (otherwise known as subway in the USA), we couldn’t help but maneuver our way through the thick crowds.
Ana Mae and I parted ways as we reached the spot to enter into the tube. I decided to explore the surroundings of London Bridge as Ana Mae proceeded to go to her office. Walking down the bridge that traverses the banks of the Thames River, one sees the majestic and unique London skyline. Perhaps no other city could claim London’s kind of skyline owing to various unique architectural design with different shapes and forms. The top section of old medieval buildings and spires of churches from way back to the 16th-17th centuries gracefully stand beside post-modern designed buildings whose shapes seem to defy classical lines.
If one stands at the corner where there is the intersection of Leadenhall Street, Lime Street and St. Mary Axe Street and looks up to the sky where these shapes converge, one can’t help but be in awe at the accomplishment of British architects and builders through the centuries. What I consider the queen of these buildings is the one that has the address of 30 St Mary Axe which is informally known as The Gherkin. It is the premier commercial skyscraper in London’s primary financial district, completed in December 2003 and opened in April 2004, constituted by 41 floors and standing at 180 meters. Inquiring from the in-charge of the Hop In-Hop Out bus that takes tourists the cost of the ride, I was told they charged £39 for the whole day. Too expensive, I thought so I gave up the idea of seeing the sea from on top of the upper deck of the bus. As I returned to the tube, two musicians were playing their instruments at various parts of the corridor – a woman with her violin playing “My Favorite Things,” and a male pianist playing classical music.
Taking the Jubilee line from London Bridge station, I proceeded to go to Green Park. Enjoying the noon day sun, I sat down on the grass along with hundreds of others who must have been mainly tourists taking a break from walking around to see the different sites. Time to have a quick lunch with a sandwich and a banana. Water was courtesy of a fountain nearby with fresh water. Then I went up the Piccadilly Street and entered the Hatchard, which goes back to 1797 “by appointment to the Majesty the Queen Booksellers.” There are two floors to accommodate all kinds of books. Name it, they have it, including first editions and rare books. I looked at the section on Asian History, and there was only one book on the Philippines. This was Jonathan Miller’s Duterte Harry: Fire and Fury in the Philippines.
As I passed by the St. James’s Church, still along Piccadilly Street, I noticed there was a bazaar selling jewelry, art pieces, bags, T-shirts and other goods. I also learned there was a noon-time concert, featuring the Korean concert pianist Danbi Heo. I took a seat and along with hundred others listened to her interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonato No. 21 in C major, and Chopin’s Piano Sonato No. c in B Minor. Truly a most welcome respite from the walking and provided time for deep meditation.
Shortly after, I walked towards Piccadilly Circus. At the space below the statue of Mercury (the statue was supposedly commissioned on behalf of Anthony Ashley Cooper KC the 7th Earl of Shaftesburg), young men were doing a mime-hip-hop dance number watched by hundreds of tourists who gathered around them.
Walking further towards the City of Westminster, I reached Trafalgar Square where stands Nelson’s Column, the monument built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument – made of Dartmoor granite – was constructed between 1840 and 1843 to a design by William Railton at a cost of £47,000. In front is The National Gallery with free admission to its main collection. Having only two more hours to spend in a gallery – where one could stay for a day or two – I decided to focus on my favorite painters from Raphael to the medieval masters El Greco, Velasquez, Vermeer, Van Dyck and on to the impressionists (Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Klimt) and the post-impressionists (Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat) and others.
As I returned to trace my step back to Green Park station (where I was to meet Ana Mae at 6:00 P.M.), there was one more stop possible at Burlington Building. This time I went to see a small exhibit at the Geological Society that featured Raising Horizons: Portraits Highlighting Women in the field of Archaeology and GeoScience. This was followed by a visit to the Royal Academy of the Arts where the collection open to the public has a copy of da Vinci’s Last Supper. An interesting room featured an interesting manner of exhibiting what the future of architecture could be.
Rushing down the corridor of the Burlington arcade – where expensive jewelry, cosmetics and clothing are displayed – I connected back to Piccadilly St. moving towards the Green Park Station where I took again the Jubilee line going back to London Bridge. There Ana Mae met me and we went home. Meeting her son Esteban and then having a Moroccan-style dinner with red wine, Ana Mae, Matias and I had a lovely meal together. A truly enjoyable way to end this rare day to walk down the streets of London and just taking things easy!
[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]